Interview with Anna Richardson Taylor
for Creative Review
, August 2013
Martin Lorenz and Lupi Asensio of design studio TwoPoints.Net are applying their considerable experience in European design education to their very own study programme. A year into the ambitious venture, they talk to Anna Richardson Taylor about their vision…
Setting up your own educational establishment is not every designer's idea of a dream venture. But for Martin Lorenz and Lupi Asensio of Barcelona-based design studio TwoPoints.Net, teaching has been intertwined with their everyday practice for a number of years – and in 2012 they took one step further, launching their very own school, Designwerkstatt (or 'design workshop' in English).
Asensio and Lorenz have been teaching regularly since 2005, starting off with workshops at different design institutions, schools and festivals, and later as regular teachers at different design schools in Barcelona alongside their studio work. In 2009 they realized they want to exert more control over the way they teach and ended up creating two different postgraduate degrees, for the Elisava Design School in their home city. But even as directors of a masters degree the duo felt limited by the institution's wider programme, and didn't always agree with the way things were done, says Lorenz. "We had total freedom about the teachers and the hours and subjects. Still, there were other components we did not have control over that are extraordinarily important for us – the space/environment, the team building and interaction through activities and so on. That's why we decided to control everything."
So DW was born – an educational incarnation of TwoPoints.Net the studio, incorporating the duo's collective experiences of design schools in Spain, Germany and the Netherlands – "we've taken the best of each teaching system," says Asensio.
"It's all pretty much us which you see in Design Werkstatt, because it repeats what we know best," says Lorenz. Fo example, the choice of Berlin and Barcelona as the main locations for the courses is ideal, as both cities are attractive destinations in their own right for anyone looking to study in a vibrant city. But the decision to opt for those locations was more to do with their respective backgrounds (German Lorenz and Spanish Asensio) than a calculated move.
"DW is not really like a company, like we had this business plan," Lorenz explains. "One of the things that's important to us is that we do not become this machine, where what counts most is the amount of chairs you have in the classroom. We run the school, but we also teach, so we are responsible for our product."
DW offers two longer courses of 70 hours in Barcelona: Visual Systems for Flexible Visual Identities, taught by Lorenz and Cristobal Castilla, and Swiss Typography & Editorial Projects taught by Asensio.
In addition, it runs two-week courses in Berlin, as well as a series of shorter workshops in different countries – last year, they visited Manila, Jordan and Doha, for example. "The workshop formula is good for people to get interested and inspired, and get them out of the daily workflow," says Lorenz. "But if you really want to learn something you need to take some time. That's sometimes difficult if you work already, but there's always a way to do it."
The school also works with a handful of carefully selected guest teachers, such as Castilla, Dutch designer Donald Roos who teaches type design for DW, and Berlin-based designer Martina Flor who recently ran a lettering workshop. Finding the right teachers – the perfect blend of practicing professional who also knows how to teach – is a challenge, admits Lorenz. "We recognise that this profile is hard to find, because in a lot of masters degrees you have big name designers, but then they don't know how to teach." A good teacher should not try to impose certain aesthetics on students, but give them room to learn, adds Lorenz. "You might not like the aesthetic, but if the design is right, you have to approve it," he says.
DW is not a school in the classic sense, Lorenz and Asensio say. It is a place for designers who seek to improve their skills in a favourable environment. Its approach to teaching is shaped by some core beliefs, they add.
'It is more useful to teach how to learn than to teach rules' is the first tenet they abide by. "A culture of criticism and discussion is essential, because education doesn't stop after a masters degree," says Lorenz. "You have to learn how to learn, and be able to analyse things you see and look at them in a critical way. That's what we try to achieve – to change the way of seeing things around you."
In addition, they are keen to foster a friendly, informal atmosphere in small groups, usually of no more than 12 – "creating an atmosphere in which sharing interests and doubts is fostered often results in a much richer class than initially expected" – and encourage co-authorship, joint responsibility and being pro-active.
DW is aimed at professionals, with the courses in Barcelona (most taught in Spanish, but moving towards English) mainly attended by southern Europeans and some South Americans, and the Berlin-based, English-taught courses attracting participants form northern Europe and a more international background.
One of the main challenges in setting up DW was attracting the right audience, says Lorenz, one that is "very demanding with us but with themselves too, that are open for reflection, discussion and seek formal innovation but never put this over the communication".
The flexible visual identities course, for example, aims to instil in students a more conceptual and creative way of thinking. "It's about the changing your way of thinking," says Lorenz. "(About thinking) of items and applications that don't exist yet, instead of having a static logo. The students learn how to walk with open eyes through the world."
"We want to attract people who are really serious about the profession, who are hard workers, and who take the role of the designer in society seriously," adds Asensio. "And everything is concept and content related – if it's made in the classes, there has to be a reason."
This ambition is echoed by the DW students of the past year. "Within the school, the student feels free to create, to invent, to make creativity advance beyond the limits," says designer Laia Guarro, who took part in the typography and editorial projects programme. "Reality should not be a burden. I learnt a lot of things, (especially) that you have to follow your own judgement and your own ideas."
As DW and its programme evolve, Lorenz and Asensio are keen to mix things up and make it a bit more complex, to develop a combination of classes that complement each other. They will still specialize in editorial projects and flexible visual systems, but they want to expand their stable of guest teachers, and maybe add some strategic design courses.
This year, DW also organized a workshop during Typo Berlin looking at tactile visual systems which was well received, with the participants presenting their projects in front of the Typo audience. The course challenged its participants to create 3D visual systems without a computer. They were free in their material choices, but had to come up with a system using fixed and variable parameters. The mix of interesting lectures and "real" classes with hands-on project experience "worked really well", says Lorenz.
It's early days, but Lorenz and Asensio are clearly in it for the long haul. As Asensio says, "Sometimes in interviews I get asked 'which designer influenced you most?', and I always mention teachers. For me personally, Design Werkstatt is the most important project of TwoPoints."